“What if I don’t know what they’re meant to learn?”

When I first started to tell people I was going to homeschool, one frequent comment was something along the lines of, “What if you don’t know what they’re meant to be learning?” Sometimes it wasn’t put in that way. Often it was, “I could never do tha;, I’m not smart enough,” but underlying it all is the assumption that we have to know everything that we are going to teach our kids. I disagree.

Now, full disclosure before I continue: my kids are young. I don’t have any in upper years, but we’re planning to do this right through, so I’ve thought about it a lot. If you have older kids, and I come across as an ignorant fool who has lots of opinions, only because he’s not there yet — please set me straight!

This worry isn’t often about the early years, but for some, it’s there from the start. I remember a mother asking what to do for maths with her five-year-old. The father was going to take it over in two years after he finished his studies, but until then it was up to her, and she believed that she couldn’t do maths, so couldn’t teach her five-year-old. Noone should doubt their abilities like this. If you can function in everyday life, if you can buy milk, if you can serve cookies to your family without a mutiny and cut a cake into enough portions for everyone to get a share, you can do the first few years of maths.

My kids aren’t me. They’ll want to follow academic streams different to the ones I did, and that’s great. But, it doesn’t mean I need to know it all first. I know I’ll have moments of doubt, and here are a few things I hope to remember:

1) The academics they learn aren’t that important.

I believe that the academics I teach my kids don’t matter…in the same way that the mission trips I used to lead weren’t for the communities we went to. The kids we took did it for the community; we did it for the kids to develop a heart for serving and mission. Likewise, there’s a subtext to academics, and most of the lessons our kids will learn aren’t the actual lessons we teach them. When I look back on my schooling, I remember not so much the dates I had to memorise in history, but the overview and how everything influences everything else. When I remember geography, I remember a bit about tectonic plates, but more about being amazed at how huge and fragile our world is. From science, I can remember a few things about the periodic table, but more I remember the beautiful balance that exists in nature, and I notice the laws of physics all around me, even if I no longer can recite the formulas. From economics, I can’t recall the formulas either, but every time I listen to politicians making promises, I wonder at the “real cost”* of whatever they’re proposing. I believe it’ll be the same for my kids.

2) It’s an opportunity to teach them how to learn.

We all had to learn the periodic table in class. How many of us can still recite it? Academic lessons will be forgotten. Instead of worrying about knowing everything my kids need to learn, I’m much more interested in using those things to teach them how to learn. I don’t need to know everything; I need to model how to learn. If they don’t understand how to do something, they need to learn how to look it up, how to find an expert, how to use the internet to find answers, and how to use discretion to know which answers to believe. In today’s changing world there are few academic constants. Planets that we learned about are taken away, holes in the periodic table are filled, new discoveries turn our knowledge of history upside down, and depending on what country you’re in, the history you learn about the same event will be completely different. We’re bombarded with facts both real and alternate, so teaching my kids how to check things for themselves and how to think for themselves is one of the top priorities of their education. We also have a time when most people change careers several times and most of our kids will have jobs that aren’t even invented yet. How can we possibly prepare them with academic knowledge for that? All we can do is teach them to learn.

3) Nobody knows everything.

How many times have you witnessed a stupid argument because someone was too embarrassed to say that they don’t know? I have many times. Being able to admit to not knowing something is valuable. If we can teach our kids that there’s no shame in admitting it and asking others for advice, we’re teaching them humility and how to learn. People love to show off their knowledge. If you admit you don’t know something, people love to teach. Kids minds also have a wonderful ability to ask hard questions and think outside the box. I did well in school, but my oldest, at four, would regularly stump me with tough questions simply because he saw the world differently. We could look up the answers together and both learn something. I love when that happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and I’d love to hear any of your ideas about how you combat this.

*The “real cost” is whatever else could have been done with the money. Put really basically, if there’s enough money for a school or a hospital to be built, and a school is chosen, then the real cost of the school is that we don’t have a hospital. If a there is a tax cut, then the real cost is everything that money would have done.

My wife and I homeschool our three boys on a small farm in Australia. I'm trying to blog at dadschooling.com.

One Comment

  1. I think you hit the nail right in the head. I have teenagers but your advice still applies. Just one thing I’ve learned is teenagers is a whole new ball game. Learning and changing with them is fun. One thing my parents taught us was not what to think but HOW to think. Very important.


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